The world of personal trainers, like most of the world, is a confusing mixture of good, average, and poor. Finding a quality personal trainer is a much more important choice for you though, than finding a quality toaster or TV. If your expensive toaster or TV breaks or is not the quality you expected you can simply return or re-sell it to where you bought it from in the first place. When it comes to personal training, if your expensive personal trainer is not of the quality you expect then you can find yourself injured, in worse shape than you previously were, and feeling disillusioned with an entire industry of people who want nothing more than to help you help yourself.
The unfortunate reality is that it is very difficult to find a trainer who you’ll like, who is properly qualified, has extensive experience with a wide variety of clients, can adapt to your individual needs, and properly understands the mechanics, limitations, and abilities of the human body. There are countless articles and blogs online telling you what NOT to look for in a personal trainer, but not many that help you find a good one. This piece is here to help you find a great trainer that you can form a lasting bond with, and who will actually change your life. It is, however, important to briefly explain the importance of not settling for poor or mediocre trainers before we begin discussing quality.
There are some frustrating people in the world. People that take advantage of others, whether they know they are doing it or not. This piece is being written because I have seen far too many poor trainers taking people’s money and not giving them anything in return. A person in reasonable take who has taken a month-long fitness course, no matter what their shiny certificate says, is not qualified to take charge of people’s health and well-being, and they are definitely not qualified to charge $100 for every hour of their time. An experienced and knowledgeable trainer is well within their rights to charge that much, and it will be money well spent, because when it comes to high quality you get what you pay for. But trainers with no experience or real training (training a variety of real clients, not just passing assessments with classmates during a course) should not be charging premium prices.
So the financial part of things is an obvious downside to having a poor trainer. They will probably charge you a premium price for a below average service. The other two biggest problems are also probably obvious to you; injuries and no progress. You will get injured, either in the short term or with a degenerative long term problem, when you have a poor trainer, and your progress will be slow or nonexistent. Many overweight clients mistake the fact that they lost a kilogram or two in the first few months with their trainer as evidence that they are a quality trainer, but this is not necessarily the case. More often than not, this is weight that is coming off simply because you are moving much more than you have previously done, and would come off even if you walked for 30 minutes every day.
The following are things to look for when you are trying to determine if your new trainer is worth your hard earned money.
Training a wide variety of people is of vital importance to being able to adjust to unusual situations when training clients. If you are a twenty-year-old male football player aiming to improve your on-field performance, a trainer who has only trained 30-50 year old women for weight loss is not going to help you, while the reverse is also true. If, however, your trainer has trained athletes for athletic performance (individually or as a team strength & conditioning coach), overweight clients for weight loss and general health, bodybuilders, large groups, people rehabilitating from significant injuries, and a variety of other clients or athletes, all with success, then they probably have a strong understanding of the human body and will be able to adapt to your individual abilities, limitations, and requirements.
As daunting as it may be as a new client, it is very necessary for your trainer to rigorously assess your current physical status prior to, and over the course of your training. This allows your trainer to track progress, identify potential risk areas or areas of improvement, and properly understand your needs and capabilities. Assessments can be done in a variety of ways, including movement screening, anthropometric measurements (girths, and skinfolds, etc), performance tests, and previous injury inquiries (this is a MUST. If your trainer does not inquire about previous injury before training you, find a new trainer immediately).
Qualifications & Self-Improvement
When I say qualifications I mean real qualifications, and a demonstrated thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. I know some excellent trainers who have only basic formal qualifications, but have been in a constant state of self-improvement for all the years they have been training. They attend conferences, study the latest science and findings in the industry during their free time, take on extra courses such as Olympic Weightlifting or boxing coach qualifications, or are engaged in further formal study. Not every quality trainer has a university degree in the field of sport science or human movement (and many who do have one are not quality trainers), but this is not what makes a good trainer. Constant improvement is what does, so make sure your trainer is always bettering themselves. If they aren’t, how can they help you better yourself?
This one is a rather broad generalisation, but it needs to be said. Chain gyms usually have deals in place that guarantee employment of trainers that pass the cookie-cutter basic training courses. On top of that, they charge ludicrous prices because the gym usually takes half of the fee. Obviously there are many exceptions to this, but don’t just go running straight to your nearest Globo-gym the first chance you get. Most of the best trainers operate in independent facilities.
They are an Athlete
This does NOT mean that they are a shredded bodybuilder. There are countless bodybuilders that think they are trainers, and train everybody the way they train themselves. Why would a 50-year-old who wants to lose weight need to perform 50 bicep curls during a session? They don’t!
An athlete is someone who is in shape and can perform the exercises they prescribe. Your trainer should be able to squat, deadlift, jump, run, perform pull ups, have good posture, mobility, and body proportions (for example, they shouldn’t have massive arms and tiny legs), among other indicators of athleticism.
Quality trainers don’t write individual sessions. They write long-term programs that are essentially the blueprints to get you to your fitness or performance destination. Your trainer should have a plan from the start. It should be written down ideally, but the plan should at the very least be in mind at all times. Making it up on the fly is necessary on occasion, but if your trainer if doing it every session then it is time to move on.
Similar to the assessment point made earlier, a quality trainer tracks the performance progress of their clients. This can be done with pen and paper, on a phone or tablet, on a computer, whatever! The point is that your trainer should always have something on hand to record how you perform every session.
There are lots of different factors that go into making a high quality trainer, and these are just a few of the most important. It is also obviously important that you like interacting with your trainer, that they are accessible, and that they actually care about you and your progress. If you are unhappy with your trainer, find a new one!
Use this guide to find yourself the best trainer you can so that you can get the best results possible.
Strength & Conditioning Coach